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Reactions to F. Sionil Jose's Lecture at the University of the Philippines

Reactions to F. Sionil Jose's Lecture on Revolution and the University of the Philippines
Source: http://www.up.edu.ph/fsioniljose_reactions.htm

1. ‘Responsibility is a shared burden’
Sociology Professor Randy David

2. ‘Nagsimula na ang rebolusyon’ (a transcription)
Professor Emeritus Bienvenido Lumbera

3. ‘The University and how it teaches about power’
Philosophy Professor Zosimo Lee

‘Responsibility is a shared burden’
Sociology Professor Randy David

I agree with our distinguished lecturer and National Artist, Francisco Sionil Jose, that mass poverty is the biggest problem of Philippine society today. The poverty of our people, he says, is the result of three factors: the loss of our “ethical moorings,” our lack of a “sense of nation,” and the betrayal by our leaders of the people’s interest. Let’s look at his argument more closely.

I have a little problem with the term “ethical moorings,” which I take to mean the same thing as the word “values.” To speak of “moorings” is to suggest that a people’s relation to the world must be fixed. Yet all values change, some faster than others, reflecting the changing circumstances in which human beings make their lives. Frankie would be hard-pressed to define what these basic ethical moorings that have been lost are, and to explain why he thinks we need them in these times. I am quite certain that for every ethical ideal he proposes, ten different others will come to mind. And there would be no objective way of deciding which ethical ideals are more important to Filipinos than others.

My own view is that values are in the final analysis a society’s defense and necessity, their ultimate objective being the preservation and growth of the community over time. Some values are worth strengthening, while others need to be discarded – depending on whether they promote or threaten the survival of the nation in changing times.

I think that a nation’s core values must help its people not only to survive but also to grow and mature as a community. Two things come to mind when we talk of growth: first, the capacity to feed ourselves and take care of our people’s needs without having to rely on other nations; and second, the ability to govern ourselves and set our own goals as a nation. The first is self-reliance; the second is autonomy. They are interrelated: a dependent nation can never hope to be free.

Have our values as a people helped us to grow? Or is it the loss of our ancestors’ values that arrested our growth? If it is the latter, as Frankie suggests, I would be interested to know what these are that we have lost, and how their loss has made us poor.

“Sense of nation” is another one of those concepts that are difficult to pin down. I am more comfortable with notions like “national pride” or “national esteem” and the extent to which this is strengthened or eroded in the course of a nation’s history. I also believe that Filipino national pride has diminished greatly since the formation of the Filipino nation. Today this is most manifest in the continuous migration of demoralized and disenchanted Filipinos who feel betrayed and see no hope for themselves and their children in these shores. Not to look back, rejection, anger – these are reactions of émigrés who think they must peel off the history of their nation from their bodies before they can begin an entirely new life in their chosen country. This is a form of violence upon the self that often enough some Filipino immigrants also try to inflict on their children by erasing any trace of the Filipino in their hearts.

It is not the simple loss of sense of nation that I worry about, but rather the loss of pride in one’s nation. In the global age, it is no longer unusual to live and work abroad and remain a national of one’s country of birth. There is no need to apologize for leaving one’s country, just as there is no need to reject it in anger as a condition for one’s happiness as an immigrant.

A nation is the collective responsibility of all its citizens, not just of its leaders. While it is true that the leaders of a nation must bear a large share of the blame for its failure, responsibility is in the final analysis a shared burden. We must not stop reminding ourselves of this because it is usually easier to blame everybody else but ourselves for the problems of the nation. We blame the country for failing to provide its citizens a worthwhile future, but we seldom ask what we have done or are doing to make it a better country. A nation is not something that exists independently of its citizens. It is something its citizens gradually create across generations.

Having said this, I think there is little to gain -- except maybe rhetorical satisfaction -- from blaming the leaders of a country for the problems of its people. Needless to say, it is equally pointless to blame the victims. But we must bear in mind that leaders do not become leaders, or remain leaders, without the consent or sufferance of the people. The more important question therefore is: If the leaders have made a mess of the nation, why do they remain leaders? Why have the people not thrown them out? Why do we keep electing the “wrong” leaders?

The answers to these questions point to structural weaknesses and historical conditions that are glossed over when our attention is focused entirely on subjective causes like ethical foundations, sense of nation, and betrayal of leaders. These structural conditions constrain us in what we do or wish to do, even as they provide the opportunities for overcoming our problems. It is in this sense that Marx once said: “Men make history, but they do so under circumstances not chosen by them.” It behooves us to interpret the meaning of these circumstances, in ways that concretely allow us to eventually supersede them.

Thus, to Frankie’s argument, I will add: We are poor primarily because our economy has remained stagnant. Our productive capacities have not grown in proportion to the increase in our population and the growing needs of our people. We have not maximized the use of the vital assets of our nation – the talent and industry of our people, the wealth of our soil, the richness of our waters, the beauty of the land, and so on. We are wasting these resources – our people above all. By failing to nurture and educate our young properly so they can become productive citizens, we now confront them as a burden.

We are poor because a backward-looking landed oligarchy managed to capture the postcolonial State, and placed it entirely in the service of their conservative interests.

We are poor because we have surrendered national planning to the vagaries of global capitalism, wrongly believing that if the State stepped aside to allow private entrepreneurship free rein, the immanent rationality of the market would ultimately bring the economy into the circuit of development. The experiences of Japan, Singapore, and South Korea – economies we most admire – demonstrate the opposite of that. Late developing societies cannot afford to rely on the logic of capital alone because that means giving up control of the nation to the forces of global capital.

Where domestic capital is weak, the State has no choice but to strengthen it even if this means playing an aggressive economic role. This is what the Koreans, Singaporeans, Thais, and Malaysians did. This is what Marcos supposedly also had in mind.

Of course, this solution carries with it its own inherent dangers. The most important is the danger of such an experiment ending up in “crony capitalism,” where the wealth and power of the State are placed in the hands of favored entrepreneurs who then abscond with the money. The other danger is that when political leaders are too close to business, they end up enriching and protecting the business of a few at the expense of the rest of the nation.

Frankie calls for a “nationalist” revolution, yet his analysis hardly problematizes foreign domination. When he says that the vanguard of the future revolution should be the masa, I believe what he has in mind is a democratic or anti-feudal revolution.

Interestingly, he also thinks the leadership of the revolution will be produced by the University of the Philippines, as if the UP were exempt from elitism. He seems to forget that a great number of our past political leaders who became servants of the oligarchy are also products of this university. I do not see very many children of the masa in the campuses of our university, since these children seldom get to finish high school. And even if there are, they usually join the ranks of the professionals who serve the elite after graduation, or go abroad to use their minds in the service of other nations.

I do believe that the UP’s principal mission is to breed leaders of the nation, hopefully, revolutionary leaders. But such leaders may not necessarily come literally from the ranks of the peasantry, the working class, or the urban poor. They may not themselves be the fighters in the streets or the cadres in the countryside. In fact, they may not even be the political leaders of the future. For me, it would be enough that they nurture an intense pride in their country, care enough for its future to want to spend the rest of their lives building it, have a passionate concern for the underprivileged and downtrodden in our society, and love learning enough to make it a lifelong obsession.

You cannot force a revolution. I think the moment of revolutionary rupture comes when it is least expected. The kind of students we breed in this university must be such that no matter who the leaders of a given period may be, they will have no choice but to serve as the worthy pillars of a strong independent nation.

‘Nagsimula na ang rebolusyon’ (a transcription)
Professor Emeritus Bienvenido Lumbera

Nang matanggap ko ang kay Frankie na abstract, ang una kong reaksyon ay bakit sa kanyang pagsasabi na ang kanyang papaksain ay ang University of the Philippines and the Revolution, tila nakalimutan niya na nagsimula na ang rebolusyon na kanyang hinahanap, na sa mga huling taon ng Dekada ‘70 ay lumitaw ang isang kilusan na ang layunin ay agawin ang kapangyarihan mula sa kamay ng mga naghaharing uri upang mabigyan ang mga Pilipino ng tunay na kalayaan at ng demokrasya. Para bang ang hinihingi niya ay for UP to reinvent the revolution dahil sa kanya ang rebolusyon ay tinawag niyang nationalist, at sa kanyang pagpapaliwanag kanina, binanggit niya ang pangalan ni Bonifacio at kanyang sinabi na tila pagkakamali ni Jose Maria Sison na siya ay tumanaw sa Tsina upang humango ng ideolohiya na magiging tuntungan ng rebolusyon na kanyang nilalayon.

Ngayon, kung ating babalikan ang kasaysayan ng UP at ang relasyon nito sa rebolusyon, makikita natin na ‘yung tinatawag na First Quarter Storm ay isang panimulang hakbang ng mga kabataang nasa Unibersidad ng Pilipinas kaugnay ang iba pang kabataan sa iba pang unibersidad na simulan ang pag-agaw ng kapangyarihan mula sa kamay ng naghaharing uri, na sa pananalita ni Frankie ay ang elite ng Pilipinas. Sa hanay ng mga estudyante na naging bahagi ng FQS, totoo na mayroong mga lider na bumaliktad at ito ay isang bagay na hindi kataka-taka, dahil sa kasaysayan ng anumang rebolusyonaryong kilusan, habang tumatakbo ang panahon at kilusan, mayroong mga lider na tunay na bumabaliktad, pero ating pakasusuriin ang mga taong naging bahagi ng FQS. Marami sa kanila ang nagpatuloy at hanggang ngayon ay nasa kilusang pambansang demokrasya, na ang kanilang pinanghahawakang mga prinsipyo ay mga prinsipyo na kanilang natutunan sa Unibersidad ng Pilipinas bukod pa sa kanilang pag-aaral ng iba pang kaisipan mula sa ibang bansa.

So, hirap kong tanggapin na may bagong rebolusyon na dapat harapin ang Unibersidad ng Pilipinas. At ito ay tinatawag niyang nationalist revolution.

Ang isa pang okasyon na ipinamalas ng UP ang kanyang rebolusyonaryong orientasyon ay ang Diliman Commune. Totoo na ang Diliman Commune ay naging tampulan ng maraming puna ng mga intelektwal, ng mga lider ng bansa, dahil sa mga kalabisan o pagmamalabis na nangyari noong panahon ng Diliman Commune. Pero iyon ay isang matatawag nating necessary step, necessary preparation for stepping up a revolutionary movement.

Matatandaan din natin na noong panahon ng martial law, isang panahon na ang media ay kontrolado ng estado, sa Unibersidad ng Pilipinas lamang nanatiling buhay ang tinatawag nating freedom of the press, dahil sa pamamagitan ng Collegian at Diliman Review ay napaabot sa mga tao ang mga kaisipan na hindi pinapayagang malathala sa mga medyang kontrolado ng gobyerno.

Ang tatlong bagay na ito ay pagpapatunay na mayroon nang rebolusyon na nasimulan at nilahukan ang Unibersidad ng Pilipinas at hindi na kailangan na umibento tayong muli ng isa pang rebolusyon upang maganap ang pagbabagong hinahangad ng mga Pilipino. Sa pananalita ni Frankie—na medyo hindi kapani-paniwala para sa akin—‘yung kanyang pagsasabi na hindi siya naniniwala na kailanman ay magtatagumpay ang isang rebolusyong pinamumunuan ng mga komunista, dahil aniya, ang mga komunista ay katulad din ng mga liderato natin na may ego at paghahangad na itampok ang sarili sa halip na ang pag-ukulan ng pansin ay ang kalagayan ng masa.

Sa palagay ko, mahirap nating tuunan na mayroon na kaagad na parameters na ang isang revolutionary movement ay kinakailangang obserbahan. Ang tunay na rebolusyonaryo ay laging handang baguhin ang pagkilos, baguhin ang mga panukala, upang umangkop sa kalagayan at mapagtagumpayan ang lahat ng balakid sa rebolusyon. Kaya ‘yung inherent prejudice ni Frankie sa kilusan na pinamumunuan ng Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas ay hindi dapat maging pananaw ng lahat ng mga taong naghahangad ng pagbabago sa Pilipinas.

Several months ago, mayroon akong ginawang pag-aaral sa isang nobela ni Frankie, ‘yung nobela niyang Ermita. Ang Ermita ay isang nobela tungkol sa isang babaeng naging puta dahil gusto niyang maghiganti sa mga elite na nagtulak sa kanya upang mapabilang sa mga mahirap, ‘yung pamilya ng driver noong mayamang pamilya. Doon sa nobelang iyon, isang pagkakataon, minor plot point pero mayroong isang kabataang babae, anak ng isang dating puta, ang pangalan ay Lily, na bigla na lamang nawala. At ‘yung nanay ng kabataan ay nag-usisa, nagtanong sa maraming tao, pagkatapos ay inireport doon sa pangunahing tauhan na si Ermita, na nawawala ang kanyang anak. Ngayon, alam na noong si Ermita na ang anak ng babaeng ito ay namundok at sumali sa NPA. Ang sabi ng pangunahing tauhan ni Frankie, si Ermita, doon sa nanay, “Alam mo, dapat mong ipagmalaki ang iyong anak kasi ang ginawa niya ay isang bagay na dapat ay ginawa ko rin noong ako ay bata-bata pa.” So, wari, sa tingin ko, nandoon sa likod ng consciousness ni Frankie na mayroong magagawa ang isang rebolusyon na sinapian ni Lily. Ang nobela ay naganap noong martial law—ang lahat ng mga aksyon ay nangyari noong martial law—at ang kabataang ito ay nagsimula bilang aktibista, inililihim sa kanyang magulang ang kanyang pagiging aktibista hanggang magsuspetsa ang nanay na marahil ang kanyang anak ay nagpuputa na rin. Kaya nabahala masyado ang nanay at inireport doon kay Ermita. At si Ermita ang nagsiyasat kung ano ang talagang nangyari sa bata. Natuklasan nga niya na naging aktibista ang bata. Nag-usap sila, sinabi ng bata na siya ay natutong magsinungaling sa kanyang ina dahil alam niya na di siya mauunawaan ng kanyang nanay sa kanyang pagpapasya na sumali sa mga demonstrasyon at mga rally. Ngayon, nang mamundok si Lily, doon nga sinabi ni Ermita na ‘yon ay dapat ginawa na rin niya. Kaya tila sa tingin ko mayroon ding pagkilala sa nobela ni Frankie na mayroong maibubungang mabuti itong pagsali ni Lily sa kilusang rebolusyonaryo.

Ngayon, sa Unibersidad ng Pilipinas, bagama’t binanggit ko ang tatlong pangyayari na nagpapakita ng kaugnayan ng UP at ng rebolusyon, makikita natin na pagkaraan ng Edsa, nagkaroon ng paghupa ng revolutionary fervor sa hanay ng mga estudyante at ‘di lamang ng mga estudyante kundi pati sa hanay ng mga guro. Ang pinakahuling manipestasyon nito, at palagay ko isang bagay ito na dapat ungkatin dahil may kinalaman ito sa nationalist revolution: Nang magkaroon ng muling pagsisiyasat sa general education curriculum, ang isang kapansin-pansin ay ang pagtatanggal ng mga kurso na siyang pinaka-votive power ng nationalism sa ating Unibersidad, at ito ay ang pag-aaral ng kasaysayan ng Pilipinas at ang pag-uukol ng pansin sa mga usapin na may kaugnayan sa kalagayan ng Pilipinas. ‘Yung RGEP sa tingin ko ay isang manipestasyon—hindi siya mismo ang dahilan ng paghupa ng fervor kundi manipestasyon na nagkaroon na ng pagbabago sa hanay ng mga namumuno sa Unibersidad tungkol sa mga pangangailangan ng isang tunay na makabayang edukasyon. Kaya binanggit ko ito ay sa kadahilanang kung ang hinihingi natin sa Unibersidad ng Pilipinas ay isang nationalist revolution, sa kasalukuyang takbo ng mga patakaran sa ating Unibersidad, tila hindi na mangyayari iyon. Inaasahan natin na magkakaroon ng muling pagsusuri sa kalagayan ng Unibersidad ng Pilipinas at sa mga darating na araw ay maibabalik ang pagkilala sa kasaysayan ng Pilipinas bilang isang susing aralin sa Unibersidad upang mapatingkad ang nasyonalismo sa ating bansa.

‘The University and how it teaches about power’
Philosophy Professor Zosimo Lee

Instead of talking about the university and revolution, I would rather share some questions and tentative answers on the concept of power. Power I think is something that the university has, and power is also something that the university can nurture, bestow and acknowledge, or thwart and challenge. I think it will serve to reflect on how we understand the phenomenon of power. ‘Power’ is basically the ability to do something, and the doing here includes the activity of thinking. It sounds better in Filipino actually, ‘kapangyarihan’, merong nangyayari, o merong kakayahan para merong mangyari, o kaya nagdudulot ng pangyayari o patungo sa pangyayari.

We exercise power in the university in the way we guide our students, acknowledge their achievements, recognize our colleagues, and distribute rewards or sanctions to everyone within the institution. We also generate power when we build arguments, write original and creative works, construct new perspectives and discover new insights and processes. The power of the superior argument comes from our belief that, first, there are criteria for superior arguments, and second, that we can recognize and bow to those better insights. Should we not be able to recognize the criteria nor be able to recognize the better insights, I think we enervate ourselves and become weak.

We also generate power when we are better able to see what is to be done that addresses fundamental questions we raise. There is an architectonic to our mind and we ourselves create the ramparts upon which we are able to see the horizon. The ability to see the whole, and pinpoint where there might be weaknesses or failures, problems or impending disasters, as well as achievements and strong points, is a source of power, even leadership. We hope that through the academic discipline that we practice, we are able to imbue ourselves with this capacity to view the horizon and the whole, and anchor that vision on stable and strong ramparts. That power is something that can energize and guide, inspire and motivate, create and fulfill.

I think we seek a certain completeness, depth and breadth to what we conceive of. Even in the creation of small interventions, somehow it becomes more satisfying when we can locate the detail within a larger picture. The rhythm and cadence of our speech and thought, seems to derive from a wider sense of the architectonic we aim to build. The superior insight derives from this more complete sense, that then helps locate the other activities within a meaningful whole. So the exercise of power must arise from this meaningful whole.

Finally power can also be oppressive or domineering, when it does not seek common ground, or attempts to build secure argument, but rather is an exercise of prerogative that is not defensible on rational grounds, when it becomes self-serving or self-interested. In contrast, power can be nurturing when it explains or bases itself on reasons that can be accessible to all, and even transformative when it seeks to replace weak or limited thinking, with more robust or rigorous argumentation. When it seeks to transform the inchoate incomplete insight into more robust ideas. Such that when the logic or the way of thinking is improved based on criteria that the individual recognizes and legislates for herself, the individual can rise up to an equality of power because she is able to argue on the best possible grounds.

A university that is able to do these is a source of power for the nation, and it can also instruct the nation as to how that power is generated and used.
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